Sapa – Shaman Sacrifices & Overnight Trains

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cB2FesdS0UEsapa title.jpgThrew together a quick highlights video featuring part of our shaman ceremony, overnight train ride and dogs and adorable children aplenty. Take a peek! ^^

Sapa – The former French colonial hill station nestled in the northwestern corner of Vietnam conjures images of terraced rice patties, wispy clouds and verdant valleys dotted wth the twinkling lights of ethnic hill tribe villages.

Located right next to the Vietnam-China border, the region of Lào Cai is a bubbling pot of Black H’mong, Dao, Tay and other ethnic tribes that have called this area home long before the French ever trooped in. What used to be a small quiet mountain village has now become a bustling hotspot for trekkers with buildings growing taller day by day to compete for their share of the surrounding mountain views.

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I don’t know what it is – and I don’t I’ll ever truly know why, but I have always been in love with trains.

Perhaps it’s because they remind me of Darjeeling Limited and quirky Wes Anderson movies, but every time my family has boarded an overnight train (through Switzerland, Kolkata to Darjeeling and twice from Bangkok to Chiang Mai), a wave of nostalgia washes over me and rejuvenates the ‘traveller’ in me.

I love waking to the calls of “chaiiii, teaaaa, coffeeeee” from the friendly train attendants, and warming myself up with a steamy cup of Chai tea as I watch the limestone peaks appear in the distance as the first break of sunlight filters through the clouds. I love how trains are built into every part of the city. How they push past crowded markets and schools letting out for lunch. How you catch glimpses of farmers on terraced rice fields and families having dinner at home, their faces glowing warmly by the flickering candlelight as they lean in close to scoop seconds . I love the sense of lingering sadness I can’t put my finger on, but will best describe as sonder – when you realize that you will most likely never see these same exact faces again, nor will they ever know your own story.

Well that got deep fast. But yup, trains. Despite the amount of sleep I don’t get on them, I urge you to take the extra time to take one in Asia when the opportunity presents itself.

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5 hours and a Sunburn Later – Motorcycling to Trang An

trang an.jpgRising early, I donned the brightest pineapple yellow helmet I’ve ever seen and set off the road to Trang An. Rather than taking the normal 3 hour route that charges straight down Highway 1, I opted to take the longer, more scenic route down the classic Ho Chi Minh Highway, hoping to make decent time and also see more than just the rear ends of other cars.

A spot on sunglasses tan, multiple layers of grime and 5 hours later, I finally rolled up to the Hoalu Eco Backpacker Hostel – slightly fuming over my decision.

While there were roadside peeks of buffaloes and limestone peaks, my cramped legs and sore butt were beat and my nerves shot from the insolent honking of rubble bus drivers. I had completely underestimated what 5 hours on a motorcycle in blazing heat could do to ones’ body.
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Alas, a quick shower and power nap later, and my spirits were up again. Stepping out of the hostel – a new (cleaner) person, I was finally able to fully appreciate where I was. Set in the middle of rice patties, the hostel was wedged neatly in between peaks of limestone that jutted up from the ground and soared overhead. Testaments to the immovable force of nature, they have carved their way through the valley and stretched all the way to my horizon where their peaks seemed to touch the clouds.

A uneven rocky road, the one that I had putted down earlier, was the only one that led to the hostel’s doorsteps. Had it not been for the beautiful advent of technology, 3G and Google Maps, there was no way I would have found my way here.

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Played motorcycle driver for 20 minutes or so.

I had stopped on the side of the road for a couple seconds to check my map when I felt a tap on my shoulder and these ladies (left photo) appeared. While there was an obvious language barrier, I could tell that they wanted a lift from their hand gestures and cheeky laughter. So off we went down the road for a mile or two until a large supermarket appeared and they clambered off, waving to me as they disappeared through the doors.

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With their motorcycles parked directly in the way of the path, this enthusiastic group of bikers wouldn’t let me pass until I joined my bike with theirs, added one of them on Facebook and left with a packet of shredded meat rice crackers – Ninh Bing’s specialty snack.

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^^ got a tad annoying after the 30th one

(perhaps I shouldn’t complain as I took one myself hehue)

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She then gave me food and we became bffs

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BICH DONG PAGODA

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Nicknamed him ‘Grandpa Mountain Goat’ due to his ability to clamber up rocks like no ones business – in thin sandals
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Welcome to the Weekend – Phuket

Snazzy eh? ^^ 😉

I figured it was probably time to learn how to put images in words in Photoshop… voila! Google to the rescue.I spent the past three days in Phuket with the executive management team of Buffalo Tours – the same travel company that previously brought me to Om Goi and Cambodia. Their annual general meeting was hosted at Cape Panwa Resort, a beautiful hotel on the South Eastern tip of Phuket where we stayed for three nights.

I, was obviously not there for the meetings, but rather, to shoot interviews and footage for their internal Responsible Travel Tourism video that’ll be shown to update all employees on the coming environmental and social changes within the company. What’s unique about Buffalo Tours is that their employees REALLY DO care about making a difference. They’re all passionate individuals who enjoy what they do, love where they are and simply wish for others to enjoy South East Asia. (I promise that they didn’t tell me to say this). So, if you’re not from the area and are looking for a tour within Asia, look no further.

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Half the time I was sitting in on meetings/filming

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How the other 1/2 of my time was spent (no complaints here)

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I somehow managed to accidentally delete 3/4 of all the photos I took during our cruise… so here are the ones that survived + screenshots from videos. woops!

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Our mini Loy Kratong celebration

old town phuket

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gahhhh such a sucker for houses like these

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Scavenger hunt (which we won, hurrah!)

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The wonderful executive head team

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The team in Phuket

A big thank you (once again) to Buffalo Tours for taking amazing care of me on not one but three occasions. The video will be out soon and I can’t wait to work with all of you again in the near future! 🙂

– JM
Last week in CM before back to BKK – T – 20 days till Europe!

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Had my fair share of seafood in the South

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BURMESE FOOD

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Recently discovered a Chicken Biryani food stall kajhfahsf ❤

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It’s been smoggy in Chiang Mai. Just a bit. To the point where if I go on a morning bike ride, my eyes start to burn from the pollution. Lovely.